Sunday, July 31, 2005

An Update to the Bold Prediction

For a refresher on my prognostication click here.

The first step toward political irrelevancy is to purge those who do not hold to the orthodoxy. Essentially, the temptation is to say that one vision got the party to where it is, and to hell (or Hell depending on to whom you speak) with those who don't toe the line. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has earned the wrath of social conservatives for his split with President Bush over federal funds for fetal stem cell research. Sen. Frist's new position is, in my mind, more in keeping with that of a physician, which is the Senator's pre-political career. Based on this decision, which can easily by argued as coming from his own understanding of the medical issues involved, he is now being pilloried by his party. I wonder how many votes the Republicans lost among those ambivalent on the issue?

Bill at INDC Journal makes a very effective argument regarding the moralistic points made at Redstate. The denial that some people can see an issue as too complicated to fit on a bumper sticker has doomed the Left for the past decade, and it seems to have taken root on the Right this decade.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Doing Their Jobs, Finally

Amnesty International has, at least temporarily, put aside their partisan blinders and has issued a release acknowleding the Iraqi insurgents as war criminals. Finally, a little intellectual honesty from someone opposed to the war.

I will not join in those who criticize AI for how long it took or trivialize it for being such an obvious conclusion.

Personally, I'm just as happy with this statement as I would be with a statement from the ACLU saying they're are going to take the case of an individual's right to bear arms. One down, one to go.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Prepare to Have Your World Shaken

Brace yourselves for a headline of such import that you may find yourself shocked, amazed, and a few more adjectives that would be here if only I could find my thesaurus. - Roberts documents reveal a conservative - Jul 27, 2005

One would be forgiven for suspecting that this may have had something to do with why President Bush nominated him in the first place. I smell ideological favoritism at work here.

I think I also detect a wiff of second-hand antagonism on the air as well. Nah, its not as if the wise people of the Senate would be so reactionary.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Just Junk the Damn Thing

Update Below

A lot has been said about the "safety culture" at NASA. The best way to accomplish that culture would be to scrap the whole shuttle program and start over, especially after discovery that the problem that doomed Columbia has not been fixed.

The key problem is that there are elements to the launch system that sit forward of exposed critical elements. After recent experiences, it is clear that the whole side-by-side configuration of orbiter and expendable boosters will continue to cause problems.

From a materials standpoint, I do not see how a reliable fix can be created. The insulation surrounding the liquid oxygen main booster will be under extreme stress during lift-off. Add to that the inevitable vibration, even from the sound of the engines transmitted through the body, and you have a high-cycle fatigue system with an elevated average load. Any compound used as an adhesive will be going through hell. Given the large surface area of the main booster, it would be unfeasibly difficult to maintain the perfect bonding necessary to prevent stress multiplying bubbles that would further throw the bonding system further off optimum.

From the safety perspective, it would be far better to have one of three systems.

1. Single-stage-to-orbit: Far less possibility of debris impacting critical structures simply because there are fewer elements that shed. There would be a possibility of a forward element shedding and striking the aft portions, but it would be more likely that any spalled pieces would travel outward rather than directly back.

2. Critical structures forward. This is the classic rocket configuration, the payload is forward of the boosters and any elements they might lose in launch. Not very useful for something the size of the shuttle as the resulting structure would be gargantuan.

3. Low stress booster system. Essentially similar to the White Knight/Spaceship One configuration, the primary lift to elevation happens slowly, White Knight took an hour to climb to 50,000, and separation occurs prior to primary ignition. Lower stress on the "booster" translates to an easier engineering problem of keeping all the bits contained.

As always, feedback and corrections are appreciated.

Update: While one can always find someone who has at some point in the past complained about a particular flaw, the whole idea of degrading the performance of critical applications over feel good public relations "environmental concerns" should have been setting off warning bells. The old foam used to insulate the main tank was originally made with freon.
NASA's limited insight into changes vendors had made with materials used in making the tanks.

Environmental requirements requiring removal of freon from the process for spraying the foam insulation onto the tank. NASA has said that the freon-free application method resulted in foam that initially did not adhere to the tank as well, but changes were later made to strengthen the bond of the environmentally friendly foam.

Time for NASA to check their priorities. No engineer worth a damn should be willing to trade of safety for some public relations gimmick. The only environmental issues that go into the shuttle should be the environment the astronauts have to work in.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Government Knows Best


John Tierney of the NY Times has a good article out regarding a case of the benefit of environmental concerns via the private exchange of property.
To reclaim the Escalante River canyon, Mr. Hedden bought the permits that entitle Mr. LeFevre's cows to graze on the federal land near the river. He figures it was a good deal for the environment because native shrubs and grasses are reappearing, now that cows aren't eating and trampling the vegetation.

Mr. LeFevre likes the deal because it enabled him to buy grazing permits for higher ground that's easier for him and his cows to reach than the canyon. (He was once almost killed there when his horse fell). He's also relieved to be on land where hikers aren't pressuring the Bureau of Land Management to restrict grazing, as they did for the canyon.

Of course, something this good can not go unchallenged.
Even though Mr. LeFevre and other ranchers along the Escalante willingly sold their grazing permits, local and state politicians are fighting to put cows back on those lands. They say their communities and the ranching way of life will be destroyed if grazing lands are allowed to revert to nature, and they've found sympathetic ears in the Bush administration.

The Interior Department has decided that environmentalists can no longer simply buy grazing permits and retire them. Under its reading of the law - not wholly shared by predecessors in the Clinton administration - land currently being used by ranchers has already been determined to be "chiefly valuable for grazing" and can be opened to herds at any time if the B.L.M.'s "land use planning process" deems it necessary.

That last part really gets my dander. It is the government that best knows how to use the land, yeah, right. You'll see this in any beuracracy, it just can't get out of its own way. Take this very situation. One aspect claims to be protecting the local way of life, while another is making up as many impedements as possible to grazing in order to protect the environment from that very same way of life. Unbelievable.

I really like this idea of protecting the environment by purchasing and not using grazing rights. It sounds very much like the retirement of air pollution credits, another very sound free market method. Too bad that doesn't fit in with the government's desire to make the decisions "for the good of the nation".

Radley had a follow-up to his first post on the topic. If the Sierra Club is on board with the idea, then I might just reconsider my plans to publish a catalog dedicated to stuffed spotted owls.

Monday, July 25, 2005

If I May Be So Presumptuous...

as to offer an explanation of another's post, and for the name calling it generated, then I would say that he was saying that any type of media outrage that gets reported will be used as justification for terrorist actions. I take as an inferrence that the media should take a close look at what it does, report fairly were there are abuses to explain, and to refrain from reporting on mere rumors that lack what we in the scientific community refer to as evidence. Additionally, those who are of a political bent opposite that of the sitting president should take a long hard look at what they are choosing to report and factor in the negative consequences on the grand scale with relation to the strength of the corroboration.

Many people go into journalism with stars (namely Woodward and Bernstein) in their eyes and dreams of changing the world. In today's world, they have the power. Time to consider that the power comes with some responsibility for the changes their words create.

Ultimate responsibility rests with the terrorists. Just writing that would make me thoroughly un-PC and disrectful of multi-cultural values, and I embrace those labels. Those philosophies include racist presumptions that I reject catagorically. The primary racism is that foreign cultures are incapable of being held to the moral standards to which we hold ourselves. The second racism is the terrorists are incapable of forming their own views and acting pro-actively upon them. The deepest aspect of their philosophy is that of world-wide Islam, non-believers and their philosophies be damned.

If you are of a different opinion, that the terrorists are only acting in reaction to what the West does, then it is all the more important that words be measured for the impact they will have. I don't particularly believe that, and so I don't automatically jump on the bash the media bandwagon. Putting myself in the other side's shoes, believing that I have the power to impact the world, I would have to look beyond my intent of writing the story (often, evidently, to shine a negative light upon the current administration) and to see the collateral damage I am causing. Words are weapons, and with today's technology, there are far from surgical.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Hometown Pride

Long time readers of this blog will recall that I used to write from Palmdale, California. I grew up in the Antelope Valley (living for various times in the larger centers of Lancaster, Palmdale, and Quartz Hill) and know all of the barbs directed at the region. A running observation about the area is that it has the highest concentration of rednecks in LA county.

So right now, I feel nothing but pride at how the local muslim community has rallied against terrorism and how they were received by local residents. (Note to the asshat with the finger: do us all a favor and stuff a rattlesnake down your pants)

I wish I was there to shake Mr. Omeira's and Mr. Fouda's hands.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Keeping Your Eye on Your Work

That's good advice, although I think someone should have told Chelsea Davis that one should keep one's distance at the same time.

Yet another reason I avoid swimming pools.

Link via a comment at Dave Barry's

Several Good Points on Political Correctness

The gentlemen of Power Line have been discussing a Toronto ordinance that prohibits any activity that is "degrading to men or women through sexual stereotyping." The upshot of this is that Toronto resident and Miss Universe Natalie Glebova was prevented from participating in a local festival in her role as Miss Universe. John Hinderaker makes a very good point about this showing that political correctness has lost its liberation bearings and has become the attempt to control the thoughts of those who supposedly can not control their own. Fortunately, the city council of Toronto has reversed course.

As I said, the article has several good points to it. But who am I kidding, the post is worth a look if only for the picture.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Michael Jackson in Berlin

I suppose that if anyone comes close to looking like the Aryan ideal (just wait for the blonde hair) it would be ol' Jacko. Evidently dangling a baby out the window is as good of a hello as any in those parts.

"No one in Germany ever let him down during the trial," he (Jackson adviser Shawn Andrews) said.

I feel that it would be entirely redundant to make a crack about David Hasselhoff at this point.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Gotta Love the Sense of Humor

I may not be into stereo equipment all that much, but you have to figure that the Empire would do so on a big scale.

Even better are the seller's responses to questions asked by potential buyers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Out of My Depth

I enjoy going on at length about decisions made by the court system, but when it comes to individuals on the bench, I am beyond clueless. I'll will leave that type of speculation to more considered others.

What I will say is that in the near future, opponents of the President will go looking for anything that can be used against the nominee. Some people are have already laid out battle plans, while more personally targeted opposition research is already underway. I certainly hope that some of them are joking.

For my part, I would ask for a litmus test. Not on Roe v. Wade (no relation), but on Kelo vs. NLDC. What a steaming pile that decision was. Too bad it was one of the good justices that we are needing to replace.


OK, so that would not be an easily marketable name for this technology, but it does get the point across. I have a few ideas regarding this blood clotting agent:

1. Is impregnating the entire pad wise? With its adhesiveness, wouldn't there be the potential damage from removing the bandage when it has been incorporated into the clot? I would think that a film on top of the bandage would be safer.

2. Consider the attractiveness of this technology for hemophiliacs. While it obviously can do no good for internal bleeding, at least without surgery, open lacerations would be aided immensely.

3. I wonder if there had been any folk rememdies using ground shrimp shells or insect carapaces. Could be something for the really-hardcore survivalist to remember.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Memes of War

I've been working my way through Nonzero by Robert Wright. His central premise is that the evolution of culture is the history of mutually beneficial relationships and the structures of society that best facilitate those relationships. He relies on the concept of memes to complete the analogy of ever more complex societies with ever more complex ecosystems.

Memes, like genes, have to compete for resources in the environment, and through that natural selection occurs. Wrtight's criteria for fitness is materialistic utilitarianism, a view very similar to my own.

Looking at the world today, this model is still useful. Hood ideas prosper while less useful memes fall by the wayside. On the individual level, however, it is not to say that those vested in the less fit memes will go quietly into the good night. History is full of attempts at the suppression of ideas, but the spread of ideas can only be slowed, never stopped.

So let's take a look at the war on terror. If one is to look for root causes, then one can not get more basic than people choosing to live by the codes of Wahabbi Islam or by Western secularism. While Western secularsim makes room for the individual practice of Islam, it is in distinct competition with the meme complex of Sharia Law, which includes the meme of pre-eminence over all cultures under its aegis. The overlap of the cultural memes will, as it has, lead to to conflict. One must displace the other, and it is the Wahabbi memes that has first claimed to be agrieved. For years, the West has been flooding the Islamic world with its memes. The most dangerous to radical Islam are that Western secular mores lead reliably to more prosperous lives for those who follow it. Any variety of totalitarian society must combat the meme that good things can occur outside of the preferred belief system. The mere existence of a prosperous non-believing society would be seen as a challenge and refutation of the belief.

Worse than the existence of non-believing prosperity is the seductiveness of that prosperity to the faithful. The tactics the "insurgents" are using in Iraq shows that al-Zarqawi's band is willing to punish those who stray from the path. The targetting of civilians is an attempt to control a meme by making its adoption a more costly matter. Curious that while an argument against the war was that it would create more terrorists, it is the fact that suicide bombings are creating more Iraqi Guards and police.

One could have argued that the corruption of Islamic Extremist meme was only a matter of time for the erosion to be complete. That angle carried a price of allowing those would attack a long time to do so. The war in Iraq, in its goals of spreading freedom and democracy, is based on rapidly injecting competing memes into the lands of the Islamicist meme. The so-called insurgency is an immune response to the infection, even to the extent of sacrificing parts of the "victim".

A work in progress.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Curse You, Roy Murphy

That's the name I have given to the gremlin that lives to make my life entirely too interesting. He is related to Eric, the little twirp that plagues my friends the computer repairers. Today, he blew out the valve stem on a tire on my car five minutes after all of the repair shops in town closed for the night. Did I mention that I am about eighty miles from home and need to be at work at 8 tomorrow morning?

I had a really cool post regarding how belief systems involving "Thou shall have no memes before me" do not have long lifespans facing western secularism. Consider that a tease for tomorrow.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Friday, July 15, 2005

I'm Cool With That

Yet another silly internet quiz, this time with a serious Sci-Fi application. As I am a big Babylon 5 fan, this result works very well for me.

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Marcus Cole
An honest and chivalrous adventurer that pursues just causes, you would sacrifice much to help others.

I am a Ranger. We walk in the dark places no others will enter. We stand on the bridge and no-one may pass. We live for the One, we die for the One.

Marcus is a character in the Babylon 5 universe. You can read his profile at the Worlds of JMS.

Now that I think about it, I have more or less the same beard action going on. Sci-fi or fantasy, Rangers are just cool.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sing it, Sister

Virginia Postrel stops down to assure us that Yes, I'm Alive, citing the numerous projects she has working.

I myself had a killer day at work. Nothing like performing tests on hunks of metal weighing in at over 150 pounds apiece to get the sweat flowing. Lunch today started with a pile of salt in one hand and a liter of water in the other. So, no real inspiration happening with this post. So, I hearby declare a night off.

Later, all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Sounds Vaguely Familiar

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is worried about a potential theological split resulting from his own Islamist mentor calling for a re-evaluation of tactics used in Iraq. Evidently al-Zarqawi also believes that not showing a unified front to the enemy is a good way to lose a war.

Any bets that he is trying to use that concept against us?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Incoming Book Meme!!!

I have just been tagged with the Book Meme by Sean Dustman of Doc in the Box. Breathe easy folks, Sean is the only one of you that I know for certain has a blog, so this is probably going to be a dead end for this meme copy.

1. Number of books you own: Good God. Scattered hither and yon, I must be racking up about eight or nine hundred, and that is not counting the 200 or so role-playing game books that have yet to clear their temporary housing in the guest room of a friend's house. Every so often fire codes dictate that I have to clear the dross.

2. Last book bought: Nonzero by Robert Wright

3. Last book I read: Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross

4. Five books that mean a lot to me:

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson
Chaos by James Gleik
Neuromancer by William Gibson
The Gunslinger series by Stephen King

And a personal addition, not a book but a magazine article that got me started on my professional path:

An article on advanced materials from the December 1989 National Geographic. It has been Materials Science for me ever since.

Humor and Quantum Mechanics

What are two things that can not be explained, Alex?

Although this is the most perfect exemplification of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that I have ever read. At least the cat is having fun half of the time. Of course, cats are usually high on themselves from birth on, so a little catnip never hurt.

Storage? Who Needs It?

The $200,000 Ford GT is a car that says, "My owner has everything and doesn't care to travel with any of it." OK, so maybe the guy could take along his $10,000 watch, but that would be about it given the complete lack of a trunk or any appreciable storage space. Not even a glove compartment for God's sake. It had better have satellite radio, because you certainly aren't going to be keeping many CD's in this baby.

I can see two ways of making long range trips, both with disadvantages. One is to FedEx your luggage ahead of you. This option completely eliminates spontaneity, including the inadvertant spontaneity of getting jailed for driving 100 mph over the speed limit. The other is just buying what you need when you stop wherever you are. Downside: you could find yourself in a town that doesn't keep with newfangled things like toothbrushes and the only clean shirt for sale reads "Prowd to be a Redneck".

If neither of those options works for you, then you won't be traveling anywhere. But, by God, you'll be getting there fast.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Maybe If They Burp on Key

In general, I like plastic. It is tremendously useful stuff, cheap, and easy to mold. Tupperware is the perfect example. On the other hand, I can't take it seriously as art. Maybe as performing art, as in "Concerto for Two-Year-Old, Bowl, and Mixing Spoon", but certainly not in the visual arts. Something about these photos keeps bringing up images of the modness of Austin Powers. [shudder]

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Two Cents on Millions of Eyes and Ears

That is the new post on Glenn Reynolds's semi-blog at MSNBC. He makes the point about how, in addition to providing near immediate video of an incident, video cell phones could be of use to first response personnel. The idea is that more eyes equals more information as opposed to the now relatively limited number of security cameras available on the streets.

I would add that such video would be very useful to later responders to incidents, namely investigators. While it would be highly unlikely that the incident itself would be caught on film (not to mention being a cause to suspect the person who shot the footage), information on the immediate aftermath would be very useful in compiling the complete scene. What is the reaction of the people and inanimate elements of the scene? Is there a blast wave evident from that one location? Are the lights on or off at the time of the footage? I don't think that you would need to be Gil Grissom to be able to use that type of information.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Rumor Ripples

Via, my favorite place for all opinion British, we have an anonymously sourced statement claiming that one of the suspects, potentially the suicide bomber on the bus, had been a detainee in Gitmo until the recent past. (no permalink, so scroll down as necessary)

As to its legitimacy, I vote for the "too good to be true" option. I just got home from work, and Samizdata was my first stop after CNN for tonight's blog crawl. That being the case, I have not found a rumor about this rumor that will certainly spring up. The meta-rumor would be that the anonymous source is a Bush partisan who is using the London bombings as a crass political ploy to legitimize Gitmo and de-legitimize those who call for its closure.

Something like this always stirs up the meme-space, bringing out the reefs that usually remain below the surface (Jewish conspiracy, government conspiracy, corporate conspiracy, etc, ad nauseum). Sad to say, but these days the shouting doesn't wait for all else to be over before starting.

Best wishes to everyone hurt and their families. The UK remembered us on our day of infamy, we shall remember you on yours.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Olympic Fever

London has won the priveledge of hosting the Olympics in 2012. Click here to see the reaction from my favorite limeys, AKA Samizdata.

I remember being really jazzed about LA hosting the Olympics back in '84. Then again, I was 11 at the time and had just moved out of the area.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Movie Engineering

After years of CGI effect-laden movies, I've found that I appreciate physical presence on film. CGI may be OK for things you don't see everyday, like dinosaurs or spaceships, so long as people aren't included in the image. CGI people, including aliens with too much acting time, just don't work.

Funky vehicles are a tempting subject for CGI, computer rendering is just a lot cheaper, and looks it. The Batmobile from Batman Begins is not part of that category. Check the article for specs. There probably were effects for the more outlandish stunts, but the straight chase scenes were real cars chasing a working prototype. Thank you, Director Chris Nolan, for keeping it real.

Friday, July 01, 2005

And So It Begins

And everyone thought it would be Rehnquist. Instead the first is Sandra Day O'Connor. I was wondering, after the Michael Jackson verdict, what the next court circus would be. The pool for the first instance of the word "filibuster" will open shortly.